During the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, pro-war urgers throughout the world - not least in Australia - swallowed every line fed to them by the White House, 10 Downing Street and Canberra. Nothing was impossible to believe - the more improbable the assertion, the more vigorously it was defended. With a few honourable exceptions, it seemed that almost all media “commentators” in Australia, like those in many other western countries, lost the ability to think critically.
By mid-2002, many in the West clearly saw the invasion was on, with the justifications massaged to fit logistical requirements. These recalcitrants did not need to read their tealeaves to come to this conclusion. A diligent following of events unfolding in Washington over the previous few years was sufficient. The following are a few of many issues which should have rung alarm bells in the lead up to the war.
The 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton by the far-right think tank, Project for the New American Century
Among a shopping list of demands, the PNAC demanded that:
... Removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power ... now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy ... This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts ... We believe the US has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council ...
No fewer than 11 of the 18 signatories on this letter have held very senior positions in the Bush Administration, including Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Armitage. Of the other seven, most were well-known lobbyists within the maze of extreme-right think tanks in Washington. There were some truly malevolent people within this group, including convicted Iran-Contra scandal identity Elliott Abrams, who was later rehabilitated by George W. Bush and brought inside the administration.
The 2000 'Rebuilding America's Defences' report of the PNAC
Across 90 pages, this document (pdf file 853KB) was a how-to manual for the muscular US foreign policy approach, favoured by the extreme right. Among a litany of allegations, assertions and prescriptions, the paper stated confidently:
… Adversaries like Iran, Iraq and North Korea are rushing to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons as a deterrent to American intervention in regions they seek to dominate …
It goes on to discuss an “unresolved conflict” with, and “continuing challenges” from, Iraq.
George W Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union address
During this address, Bush dubbed Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “axis of evil”. He also laid the groundwork for what would become an unrelenting campaign of disinformation about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities that followed in the months ahead. All of these allegations were thoroughly discredited following exhaustive, but fruitless, post-conflict searches in Iraq which cost billions of dollars.
The September 2002 National Security Strategy of the USA
Many experts had trouble distinguishing policy prescriptions in this document, the official national security policy of the US Government, from the prescriptions set out in the PNAC Rebuilding America's Defences paper. Given the prominence within the administration of former and ongoing PNAC apparatchiks, it is difficult to see this as coincidental.
This is but a small sample of abundant material which should have guided rational thinkers to at least question whether in mid-2002, US sabre-rattling on Iraq owed more to ideology than to actual intelligence. However, the pro-war crowd went berserk at such a suggestion. How dare anyone impugn the integrity of Bush in this way? How dare it be suggested that Tony Blair and John Howard, who were clearly inside the tent by this stage, made decisions to support US action whatever that may be. How dare it be suggested that a decision to invade had already been made. The US Government claimed the decision was in the hands of Saddam Hussein alone.
Well, let’s see if this is now clear enough, even for the gormless and the gullible in the pro-war bandwagon. The Sunday Times in London recently published a secret UK Government memo, confirmed as authentic, which blows the whistle once and for all on this charade. Recording details of a meeting between the UK Prime Minister, Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General and others in July 2002, the memo records information about then-recent inter-government discussions in Washington:
… There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action … The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January … It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force. …
It’s called a smoking gun, but the silence now is deafening. Where are the toy soldiers of the pro-war bandwagon now? Indeed, where is the media on this?